My wife Anne and I both adore visiting the US southwest desert region each winter. We love the snowbird lifestyle enjoying the plentiful sunshine, warm temps and meeting up with our fellow RVing friends. There is no lack of terrific photography and hiking opportunities and gorgeous scenery to explore.
Over the years we have embraced boondocking or as some call it dispersed camping without hookups or services — basically, just you and your RV self-contained in the wild. With boondocking, we find peace & quiet along with ample elbow room. It’s also for the most part free or extremely cheap. For us, every penny counts. Keeping things frugal keeps us in the fulltime RV lifestyle.
Of course, folks see my photos and videos of the remarkable places we are boondocking at and are curious. As the blog has grown and more and more articles are about our boondocking adventures questions have poured in. I thought it a good time to publish a post answering the most common inquiries. Here are the top ten:
Top 10 Southwest Desert Boondocking FAQs
1) How Do You Find Places to Boondock?
It boils down to utilizing a multitude of resources. Mostly in the form of online maps and databases, smartphone apps, along with real-life word of mouth. This question is so often asked I ended up writing a full blog post to cover the subject.
2) Aren’t You Worried About Your Safety?
Yes, we are always concerned about safety but in reality no more so than when I’m anywhere else. And less so than in any large city environment. I practice the same common sense I do when camping in an RV Park. Pay attention to my surroundings, store valuables out of sight, keep a lookout for suspicious persons or activity, etc.
In my experience and from talking to many other boondockers the odds of crime are relatively low. Statistically, the trip on the highways to the boondocking location is fraught with more danger.
3) How Many Solar Panels and Batteries Do I Need?
Impossible to answer without knowing your specific power requirements. My advice is first thing install a quality battery monitoring system like a Trimetric or Victron. You can then accurately monitor how much energy you use in a typical off-grid camping day.
From what I see there seem to be three common setups out there:
Minimal Energy Users: 200 watts of solar and 1-2 batteries
Smallish RV and only need to power lights, a small computer or TV, tablet, phones, etc. (300-watt inverter is usually enough)
Moderate Energy Users: 300-500 watts of solar and 2-4 batteries
Medium sized RV using larger sized computers and TV, some kitchen appliances. (1000-2000 watt inverter)
Power Pigs: 600-1000+ watts of solar and 4-8 batteries
Larger RVs running satellite TV systems, residential fridges or freezers, high wattage appliances, etc. (2000-3000 inverter or larger)
See My DIY Boondocking Power System
4) How Do You Stay Connected?
We stay connected via cellular. We have a smartphone, cheapie pay and talk phone, and a MiFi hotspot device. Each device is on a different carrier AT&T, T-Mobile, and Verizon giving us more options at grabbing a decent signal in the boonies, if I could only have one though I would pick Verizon. Overall in the southwest, it’s proven time and time again to have the best rural coverage.
We also have a cellular booster installed in the RV for those times when the signal is weak leading to poor connectivity and speeds. Our 4G-X cellular amp and RV/trucker antenna from weBoost works wonders and can turn an almost useless 1-2 bar signal into solid 4-5 bars.
The only places staying connected is a problem now is National Parks or heavily mountainous terrain. I’d say in over 90% of our boondocking campsites we have a reliable connection.
5) What About Snakes and Scorpions?
In my opinion, the fear of snakes and scorpions is overblown by folks that have never visited the southwest in the winter. The fact is some people do get stung and bitten, but the numbers are extremely low, especially in the colder months when RVers are out boondocking. In six full snowbird seasons boondocking down south we have never seen a live rattlesnake and only came across two scorpions.
In fact, I’ve only ever heard word of a nearby rattlesnake sighting a handful of times. I’ve read most people that get bit by a snake were harassing it — drunk young males being the most common victims. Even so, whenever the temperature starts to get above 80F for multiple days in a row, I get more vigilant about watching where I step and put my hands. Better safe than sorry.
6) What About Our Dog?
I get a lot of questions about boondocking with our beagle Angie. They generally fall into three camps:
How do you keep your dog cool without AC?
Typically it’s not a problem for us since we tend to migrate to cooler locations as the temperatures heat up in the springtime. If we do happen to get trapped somewhere during a mini heat wave, we stay with the dog and make sure she has shade and water. Over the years I’ve gotten to know our RV and how hot it gets inside. This experience has taught me how to position the RV to reduce inside temperatures and when it’s safe to leave the dog.
I’ve installed a thermostatically controlled low wattage (high air flow) roof vent fan. We turn that on and open a window beside the dog’s kennel, so she gets a gentle cooling breeze. We time our trips away to be in the early morning and late day.
Tip: When away leave a digital thermometer beside the kennel that records the highest temp reached.
For tips and tricks on keeping the RV cool without AC check out this article – https://www.loveyourrv.com/tips-keeping-rv-cool-without-ac
Are you concerned about critters?
Somewhat, however being a beagle she likes to wander. Therefore, Angie remains on her leash giving me control of where she goes. Like I said earlier the snakes and scorpions are hibernating, but I do keep her snout out of holes. My biggest concern is coyotes since Angie is a smaller dog so I’m mindful not to leave her tied up outside alone. So far we have had zero incidents with wildlife and the beagle.
Are you concerned about cactus and sharp rocks?
If our beagle was younger, heavier and off leash more I’d be wary of sharp ground rocks cutting up her paws, but that’s not the case, so no problems there. Cactus is another matter and likely her most significant threat. A snout full of needles wouldn’t be fun at all! In the desert, there are many varieties of cactus. Some are worse for dogs than others with the top of the evil list being one called Cholla.
The Cholla cactus boosts extremely sharp barbed needles which are painful to remove. They also drop their arms, and the wind blows them around. As they dry they brown up and are difficult to see while hiking. It’s not uncommon for the dog to get one stuck in the paw. To remove I carry a fine tooth comb. Thankfully Chollas don’t grow everywhere and are confined to certain altitudes and regions of the southwest.
7) Where Do You Dump Your Tanks and Get Water?
The answer is a variety of places like truck stops, fuel stations, public RV dump stations, rest stops, and campgrounds, etc. Usually found by word of mouth from fellow boondockers or looking up the city I’m closest to on the website – SaniDumps.com. I try to find a freebie dump first then if not fall back to paying a fee to an RV Park. They generally charge ten bucks to drive in and dump/fill.
8) Is it Safe to Take My RV Off Road?
For the most part, if you use common sense and take it slowly the answer is yes. At first, I was worried about damaging the trailer on rough dirt and gravel roads, but after weathering many terrible sections of Interstate highways, I soon gained confidence the rig could handle a little bit of off-roading.
The smaller the RV, the more off-road areas are open to you. For us, the limiting factors are sharp dips and humps in the road, turning radius and soft ground. Even with those limiting factors, there are a ton of areas to explore. Having a 4×4 helps but isn’t essential, we camp in many beautiful areas with our two wheel drive.
9) What Do You Do About Garbage?
Garbage disposal is one of the biggest problems for us. Some folks will burn it, but we aren’t big fans of fires. What I do is double bag it and store it in one of my trucks toolboxes. That keeps it out of the trailer, so we don’t smell it, and rodents aren’t attracted inside.
Most towns have a landfill site and will take a few bags no charge. Some rest stops have larger garbage bins. I have had success asking at fuel stations or truck stops. When paying for fuel, I ask the clerk if I can throw a small bag in the dumpster. If all else fails, we book into an inexpensive RV Park and pay for a night, gives us a chance to do our laundry at the same time.
10) Where Are Your Favorite Boondocking Locations?
Our criteria for a favorite boondocking location is to be embedded in natural beauty with epic views and surrounded by wildlife. We are big fans of wildlife refuges, national monuments, scenic byways, state parks, and BLM lands. For a listing head over to the Love Your RV! boondocking archives and scroll through. You’ll find links to numerous articles and videos detailing the many picturesque boondocking locations we’ve camped at over the past seven years.
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